'Beautiful, dignified': Catholic Charities hosts grand opening of new space on the coast

WILMINGTON – The Cape Fear Regional Office of Catholic Charities recently moved into a new 6,000 square-foot space on Highway 421. About half of the facility, which is leased, is warehouse space. The other half includes rooms for office work, a client-choice food pantry and a food prep area with walk-in refrigeration, freezers and food packing space.

The grand opening and blessing took place March 8 and drew donors, community partners, employees and volunteers for an afternoon of speakers, refreshments and self-guided tours.

The office was formerly located downtown in the Harrelson Center, which will continue to be the site for Catholic Charities’ immigration services.

The new site offers Catholic Charities the ability to reach more people, more efficiently, leaders said.

“It’s very centrally located for people from other counties to be able to access us,” said Emilie Hart, regional director. “Being on the bypass area … folks from Pender County can shoot right down 421, same with Brunswick County. So we are really excited to be a little bit more accessible to the community.”

The grand opening included speakers such as Father John McGee, O.S.F.S. , who is dean of the region for the Diocese of Raleigh. He talked about Hart’s leadership and how she has helped to grow the organization during her eight years with Catholic Charities.

Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama blessed the space and spoke in his remarks about how food is important, but what is even more important is how things are given.

“You are the hands of Jesus who are presenting the food to the people who are hungry and in need,” he said to volunteers and staff. “Jesus is using your presence to make a difference in the lives of those who are coming here. Sometimes it’s not only the food, but you need to listen to what the people are saying to you. [When] someone is there to listen and to serve … that is a beautiful thing that Catholic Charities is doing. Thank you for making this Gospel a reality. Put into practice the service of listening to people and making them discover their own dignity.”

Sarah Ridout, program director for Healthy Opportunities Pilots, also spoke. Catholic Charities and HOP are working together on a new initiative, which is the first of its kind in North Carolina.

HOP, she said, is a state and federally funded program that focuses on non-medical interventions in health care.

“We are seeing if there are things like delivering food boxes or providing housing navigation or transportation to a house of worship or maybe to the grocery store, providing evidence-based parenting services … these types of services and non-medical interventions to see if they can improve health outcomes and reduce health care costs,” Ridout said. “And we are so thrilled to have Catholic Charities … in this pilot program.” 

For her part, Hart is looking forward to the collaboration too and the opportunity to work on Catholic Charities other programs as well from the new space.

“It’s a beautiful, dignified space where we can welcome community members,” she said. “The Cape Fear region is unique because it is a coastal region. We are impacted by natural disasters frequently … hurricanes … a tornado … we are always needed to be able to respond to our neighbors and be ‘the tent that doesn’t pack up.’”